Does Paint Typically Contain Animal Products?

Does Paint Typicall Contain Animal Derivates

Finding sustainable art supplies is sometimes a challenge. For example, do paints usually have animal products?

Unfortunately, many paints contain animal products. Some of the most common ones include bone charcoal, cochineal, gelatin, and rabbit skin glue. These can be found in various paints — most often used as a binder. 

This article will go into more detail on these products, why they’re included in paint, and what types of paint contain them. I’ll also cover sustainable alternatives. Does Paint Typically Contain Animal Products?Some definitely do. Let’s get started! 

Common Animal Products Found in Paint

The art industry as a whole is, unfortunately, packed full of animal products. Whether it’s various binding or thickening agents in paint, horse or hog hairs in paintbrushes, or additional components to assist in enhancing the painting, it seems like most (if not all) art products aren’t really sustainable.

Paint is one of the worst offenders in this regard. While many other art supplies only contain one or two animal products, some paints contain a multitude of these within just a single tube. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most common animal products found in paint and what they’re used for. 

Bone Charcoal

Bone charcoal is similar to regular charcoal in color and texture. The primary difference lies in the source. Bone charcoal is produced from grinding animal bones to ash to produce the black color. 

Bone charcoal is often made of cattle and pig bones, but it can be from a variety of animals. 

In paints, bone charcoal is used as a pigmentation agent to further enhance various shades of black. It produces a richer color than some other coloring agents. 

There are many other sustainable options for charcoal, such as charcoal from coconut shells, peat, or olive pits. Bone charcoal is often used in conjunction with other animal products, so no part of the animal is wasted. However, with fewer animal products used overall, it’s much more sustainable to create charcoal from plant materials instead. 

Fortunately, most plant materials are more readily available and create just as rich color as bone charcoal. You can use something like the CocOpens in a new tab.o Lit Hookah CharcoalOpens in a new tab. (available on, for example. Not only is it made of 100% coconut, but it also won’t leave behind any unpleasant odors.  

Last update on 2024-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


CochinealOpens in a new tab. is another pigmentation agent commonly found in paints. Cochineal enhances many reds in much the same way that charcoal is used to enhance black. 

This animal product is found in far more than just paints. It’s used in a variety of foods as well, so if you eat vegan, make sure to look for it on the packaging — particularly in red-colored items. Cochineal can even be found in naturally red foods, such as cherries. 

As much as it can be found in foods, it’s used in paints even more often. So, where does this product come from? 

It’s the result of crushing certain scale insects. These insects, typically found in tropical areas, produce a bright red pigment when their bodies are crushed. Of course, this is intermixed with blood as well. 

Usually, cochineal is produced by scraping the insects from trees and cacti and then killing them through a hot water bath, an oven, or other methods — none of which are pleasant for the insect. Afterward, their bodies are dried and crushed. It takes thousands of scale insects to produce even a small amount of cochineal. 

There are dozens of synthetic dyes that produce the same scarlet and orange coloration these bugs produce. As the years have passed, cochineal has been used less, and synthetic dyes are used more often – a win for sustainable living. 

One decent example of a synthetic red dye is the Craft County Synthetic Rit DyeMoreOpens in a new tab. (available on You can buy varieties in red, as well as all the other colors you need. 

Synthetic Rit Dye More Liquid Fabric Dye – Wide Selection of Colors – 7 Ounces - Racing Red Opens in a new tab.
  • Create fun and colorful tie-dye, ombre, dip dye, marble, and other patterns with this synthetic...
  • Synthetic Liquid Rit Dye
  • Great for adding a pop of color to fabric!

Last update on 2024-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Gelatin is another animal ingredient found in many paints as well as in food. You may know gelatin as a component of products like Jello, but you may not know that it’s an animal product made from boiling the bones of cattle and pigs. 

Gelatin, once fully produced, acts as a binding and thickening agent in paints and food. Most often, it’s initially added as a powder before it’s mixed with liquid. Once that’s done, it begins to thicken, giving many paints their characteristic smooth texture. 

Gelatin can be easily replaced by fruit pectin or similar. Fruit pectin acts the same way as gelatin, except they’re made from fruits and sap. You can try a pack of Ball Real Fruit PectinOpens in a new tab. (available on, which is worth three to four boxes of the usual. 

Ball Real Fruit, Low or No-Sugar-Needed Pectin 5.4 oz. (Pack of 1) Packaging May Vary Opens in a new tab.
  • This new bulk bottle package is for multiple use occasions
  • It replaces 3 to 4 boxes of pectin, and is a great value for consumers
  • We have also reformulated Classic and Low or No-Sugar needed Pectin for improved flavor and...

Last update on 2024-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Rabbit Skin Glue

Rabbit skin glue is traditionally used to tighten paintings. This glue, produced from rabbit skin, helps to prepare the canvas to be stretched. It makes a canvas more durable and assists in paints’ durability as they’re applied. 

While rabbit skin glue is often used, it isn’t a necessary part of the painting process. There aren’t many alternatives for it now, though many companies are making their products without it. 

What Types of Paints Contain Animal Products?

The most commonly used paints that contain animal products are acrylic and watercolor paints. Both of these paints contain a wide variety of animal products, primarily for pigmentation or thickening purposes. 

So, when choosing acrylic and watercolor paints, you’ll want to read the ingredients and look for the ones discussed in this article. While there are a few other animal products in paints, these are the most common. 

One of the best options for sustainable paintOpens in a new tab. is Natural Earth paint, which uses only plant-based ingredients in its paints.

Final Words

The most common animal products found in paints include bone charcoal, cochineal, gelatin, and rabbit glue. These ingredients are primarily used for pigmentation and texturizing. Watercolor and acrylic are some of the paints most likely to contain animal products.

Fortunately, there are many other vegan alternatives to these ingredients, and hundreds of companies are updating their products to more plant-based options.

Elma Hogeboom – Sustainable Art
Was this article helpful?


Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

Recent Posts